Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the Federal law providing for sexual harassment discrimination relief. The New Jersey corollary is the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the relief available under the statute for sexual harassment includes compensatory and punitive damages, specific performance placing a plaintiff into the job he or she was unfairly denied (with back pay and interest), damages for pain, humiliation, and emotional distress caused by the unlawful discrimination, and potential attorneys fees. In order to obtain punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that defendants’ conduct was malicious or that they acted in wanton and willful disregard of plaintiff’s rights.
If the complaint is first filed with the NJ Division of Civil Rights (DCR), the DCR may impose penalties on the party who violated the LAD of up to $10,000.00 for the first violation, up to $25,000.00 for a second violation within 5 years, and up to $50,000.00 for third and subsequent offenses within 7 years. If a complainant chooses to file a complaint with the DCR, it must be filed with the state agency within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination. (If a plaintiff chooses to file a complaint with the EEOC, federal law provides that it must be done within 300 days of an act of sexual harassment).
Alternatively, an aggrieved party may file a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court within two years of the alleged violation. A person may initiate an action in Superior Court without first filing a complaint with DCR. However, filing a complaint in Superior Court bars the filing of a simultaneous complaint with DCR because a person may not process a complaint of discrimination simultaneously before DCR and in Superior Court.
Many cases deal with quid pro quo sexual harassment committed by supervisors or harassment by co-workers, however, there are other scenarios including harassment by clients, customers and independent contractors, which could be actionable. Victims of sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination should contact an attorney to go through their specific situation since these cases are extremely fact driven.
– Darrell F. Felsenstein, Esq. and Spencer J. Rothwell, Esq.